The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise To Power In Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney is published in hardback by Oneworld, priced £20. Available now
Egyptian royal women often served as regents for boy kings, but in 1478 BC, Hatshepsut took the far bolder step of ascending the throne herself.
Cooney, an Egyptology professor at UCLA, contends that this remarkable figure is comparatively little-known precisely because of her success, presiding over a period of prosperity, stability and exploration; antiquity’s more (in)famous female rulers, from Jezebel to Cleopatra, are those whom patriarchal society can label cautionary tales.
Cooney’s generally excellent on the strangeness of this remote time, if sometimes a little prone to universalising modern attitudes towards then-common behaviours such as polygamy and incest.
Given Egyptian records are overwhelmingly formal or ritual, not to mention fragmentary, speculation’s inevitable in any biography of the time.
Though it’s always informed and bounded, the strongest passages here come when conjecture is least needed, as when Cooney explains the theological significance of the new names Hatshepsut took upon her coronation.